Nearly decommissioned fireboat saved SF Bay Area during Loma Prieta quake

In 1987, officials were discussing canceling the fireboat program; everything changed after the 6.9-magnitude earthquake

By FireRescue1 Staff

SAN FRANCISCO — Thirty years ago, at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook San Francisco's Marina District. When firefighters responded to the incident, they quickly realized the water pipes leading into various neighborhood hydrants were broken.

And, while some firefighters either carried buckets or ferried in water to put out fires, dispatchers called upon San Francisco's only fireboat to help assist in the fight. reported that the fireboat, named Phoenix, was docked at the Marina Green when crews powered up the boat's engine and began attacking fires with water taken from the Bay.

"It basically saved the Marina district," fireboat pilot Jeffrey Amdahl said. "In 1987, they were wondering why we still had fireboats, so they talked about decommissioning them at the time."

After the Loma Prieta earthquake, officials realized they needed fireboats – and more than just one.

Thanks to a large anonymous donation and contributions from Marina District property owners, the department was able to buy a second fireboat after the earthquake. Both boats were built in the 1950s and fireboat engineer Mike Shaw said the Phoenix is in "phenomenal condition," according to the report.

Now, the department has a new fireboat – thanks to an $8 million federal grant. The St. Francis fireboat was christened on the earthquake's anniversary in 2016. In addition to the new fireboat, San Francisco is also building a 2-story floating firehouse.

"Our main mission is to be the hydrant system for the city," Amdahl said. "We're here for the earthquake."

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